A three-judge bench of the apex court comprising of the CJI Dipak Misra and Justices DY Chandrachud and AM Khanwilkar delivered a judgment condemning the spate of lynchings across the nation, in lieu of a petition filed by Tehseen Poonawalla. Authored by CJI Misra, the judgment laid down directions for the Central and State Governments in addition to issuing a recommendation to Parliament to enact a separate law for lynching with adequate punitive provisions.
Petitions filed by @tehseenp & Tushar Gandhi seeking action against cow vigilantism is listed for hearing before the CJI’s court. Latter has also filed contempt petition against three states namely UP, Harayana & Rajasthan.
— The Leaflet (@TheLeaflet_in) July 3, 2018
SC tells that it would deliver an elaborate judgment on the issue so that such incidents of cow vigilantism be tamed. Senior advocate Sanjay Hedge relied upon Supreme Court judgment in Shakti Vahini (honour killings case)to argue that guidelines be issued in line of same judgment
— The Leaflet (@TheLeaflet_in) July 3, 2018
Reiterating law to be the “mightiest sovereign in a civilised society”, the Court unequivocally deplored all instances of vigilantism and mob justice, rather than restricting its adjudicatory ambit exclusively to cases of cow vigilantism or other instances of lynching raised by the petitioners.
It further enunciated the Court adopting a bias free approach by holding that “crime knows no religion and neither the perpetrator nor the victim can be viewed through the lens of race, caste, class or religion”.
Identifying “targeted violence and commission of offences affecting the human body and against private and public property by mobs under the garb of self-assumed and self-appointed protectors of law” as the pivotal issue, they stated that no individual or group “empowered by the principles set out in law to take its enforcement into their own hands and gradually become law unto themselves and punish the violator on their own assumption and in the manner in which they deem fit.”
The judgment further stressed upon the necessity of adherence to the procedure established by law as it is inherent to a civilised society.
Holding that “there cannot be an investigation, trial and punishment of any nature on the streets”, the Court reminded the State of its “onerous duty to see that no individual or any core group take law into their own hands”. The judgment further reminds the governments, both central and state, about their “positive obligation to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all individuals irrespective of race, caste, class or religion”.
The Court also highlighted the threat posed by “frenzied mobs across the country instigated by intolerance and misinformed by circulation of fake news and false stories”, while chastising aggravating phenomena such as “bystander apathy, numbness of the mute spectators of the scene of the crime, inertia of the law enforcing machinery to prevent such crimes … and grandstanding of the incident by the perpetrators of the crimes including in the social media”.
CJI Misra also drew a parallel between the domestic scenario at hand with the lynching of African-American people in pre civil rights era USA.
He also propounded the notion of “unity in diversity” as “the most potent weapon in India’s armoury which binds different and varied kinds of people in the solemn thread of humanity. This diversity is the strength of our nation and for realizing this strength, it is sine qua non that we sustain it and shun schismatic tendencies.”
The Court also stressed upon the fact that society’s role is limited to simply reporting the offence, and then let the requisite authorities and law operate as per their own course. It held that any non-State actor assuming the role of State functionaries will be associated with criminality and reminded them that “they are subservient to the law and cannot be guided by notions or emotions or sentiments or, for that matter, faith”.
The Court then proceeded to lay down guidelines for the State. As preventive measures, it asked State governments to identify districts where instances of violence in line with the aforementioned were reported over the past five years within three weeks of this judgment being delivered.
It also asked for the appointment of Nodal officers by State Governments who apart from preventing such instances, shall also patrol sensitive areas. It also directed the State to take steps to “curb and stop dissemination of irresponsible and explosive messages, videos and other material on various social media platforms” and information sharing between the Centre and State governments.
As remedial measures it directed State governments to prepare a lynching/mob violence victim compensation scheme within a month of this judgment’s deliverance, and set up fast track courts for new and pending cases of lynching or mob violence.
These fast track courts are also directed to ordinarily award the maximum sentence as a deterrent.
As punitive measures, the Court issued directions to sanction State functionaries who fail to comply with the aforementioned directions.